Poker players are always looking for something to give them an edge and, for most of the history of the game, the best advice on poker strategy has been passed down through books. Such books are usually meant to be read over and over again, so that players gain a knowledge of how to win that is better than that of their opponents.
In recent times, other methods of study have emerged. As online poker has grown over the last two decades, so has the number of forums, online articles, tutorials, live streams, coaching (even remotely via the web) and other ways of accessing strategy advice.
Still, there are some books on poker strategy – including some that were written many decades ago – that contemporary players can still benefit from, despite the continuing evolution of different styles of play and the discovery of new concepts that help both cash game and tournament players.
Below is a list of the five best books on poker strategy that we recommend. Although some aspects of all of them are outdated, they are all still relevant not only for their historical importance, but also on a practical level. We have arranged them in chronological order and, of course, each of the five brings something unique to anyone looking to improve their game.
Doyle Brunson, Super/System
First published in 1978 with the enticing title How I Won $1,000,000 Playing Poker, Doyle Brunson’s book brings together contributions from a number of different authors, each focusing on a different game. Brunson himself contributes the longest section, devoted to what was then still a relatively new game, No Limit Hold’em.
Brunson had Mike Caro to do a section on Five Card Draw, Chip Reese for 7-card Stud, Joey Hawthorne for low hand games (including ace-to-five, deuce-to-seven or razz), David Sklansky for 7-card Stud Hi/Lo and Bobby Baldwin for Limit Hold’em.
For his part, Brunson wrote about what he famously called “the Cadillac of poker games”, No-Limit Texas Hold’em. Brunson favoured an aggressive style he referred to as “power poker”, designed to put opponents on the defensive. It was revolutionary at the time, and is still effective today as an introduction to how poker players can pressure their opponents into making mistakes by forcing them to make tough decisions.
Mike Caro, The Book of Tells
When Brunson’s book first appeared, it was really intended for the professional poker player, as you can tell from the book’s initial $100 price tag. From there, other books on strategy aimed at a wider audience appeared, one of which was Mike Caro’s classic The Tells Book.
Subtitled “The Psychology and Body Language of Poker”, Caro’s book categorised all sorts of behaviours that occur at the tables to help readers interpret the way players give themselves away when they are holding powerful hands. More importantly, it taught them to avoid being the ones to give that information away.
While some of Caro’s advice is dated – and all the photos are, with those great 1980s looks – many of the main ideas are still worth learning, especially for novice players and especially those who are used to playing online and are just starting to try their hand at live poker.
David Sklansky, Win at Poker (The Theory of Poker)
David Sklansky’s Winning at Poker does not focus on No Limit Hold’em, which is undoubtedly the most popular form of poker today. Still, Sklansky’s book is probably the most “timeless” on this list, even though it appeared more than three decades ago.
That’s because – as the original title suggests – Sklansky takes a more theoretical approach to the game, focusing on many situations that poker players face on a regular basis regardless of what game they play. Most chapters are devoted to specific concepts (e.g., semi-bluffs, slowplay, position) and offer a thorough explanation of them.
Many poker players have acknowledged that Winning at Poker taught them “how to think” at the poker table, which is probably the most effective way to recommend this book. (Incidentally, this year Sklansky revisited the book and produced a revised version entitled The Theory of Poker Applied to No-Limit).
Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger, Poker for Dummies
OK, you probably don’t want to be seen anywhere near a poker room or casino reading a book entitled “Poker for Dummies”. But for a total beginner who wants a general introduction to the rules of poker, tips on strategy to get started, or an introduction to the history of the game and its terminology, this book by Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger still serves as a valid starting point, despite its age.
It must be said that some sections of Poker for Dummies are sufficiently out of date to have become obsolete, in particular those that refer to what was then a new modality in the game: online poker. Some of the strategy tips don’t fit the game as it is today, although they can still be useful when it comes to home games full of inexperienced and/or “unburdened” players.
Speaking of home games, there’s even a chapter on how to set up and run your own. Explanations on bankroll management, differences between cash games and tournaments, the “psychology of poker” and other topics are still worthwhile. Those who have some knowledge of poker strategy and how to play need not start here, but completely new players looking for a useful and readable way to get started can certainly do so.
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie, Harrington on Hold’em
Those new to poker may not be aware that tournaments are a fairly recent evolution in the history of the game. They only really became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s (when online poker arrived).